Paul Lawrence joined a huge crowd to witness a glorious day of centenary celebrations
Few motorsport venues elicit such powerful emotions as Shelsley Walsh, sited in the beautiful depths of the Worcestershire countryside. The 1000-yard hillclimb remains unchanged from 1906, while the first event in August 1905 ran over a course just eight yards shorter.
Since then, aside from lying dormant during WWII, the high-speed rush up the steep and wooded side of the Teme Valley has hosted hillclimbing continuously. To mark the centenary the Midland Automobile Club gathered a wonderful entry, from the 1907 Mercedes of Tudor Roberts to the Gould GR55B of 2005 British champ Martin Groves.
A monster crowd watched landmark cars driven by a gaggle of past hillclimb champions and Shelsley record holders. Many came out of retirement to join the celebrations and a number of cars were revived specifically for the occasion.
Among them were 1967 record holder Bryan Eccles, in his Peter Denty-restored Brabham BT18, and Peter Westbury, back for the first time in 40 years in the Ferguson P99 that he took to the 1964 title. “Brilliant,” said Westbury of the 4×4 grand prix car. “You’ve got miles of bonnet ahead of you and it’s such a delight to drive.”
Ten years on from his last competitive event, Martin Bolsover ran his sublime McLaren M6 GT road car, while Martyn Griffiths was re-united with the Pilbeam MP53 he drove two decades ago. As a prime driving force in the successful bid to secure a new 100-year lease on the venue, Griffiths had reason to celebrate. “It’s been great,” he said happily, despite having the Pilbeam coast to a halt at the Esses on his second run.
Competition played a part even if the new outright hill record, set by Groves at 23.77sec the previous day, went unchallenged. In the class for the earliest cars, the aero-engined Piccard-Pictet of David Baker romped up in little over 40sec, while his brother Robin took the 1920s class in his 27-litre Hispano-Delage. The BMW 328 of Mike Sythes headed the 1930s sportscars, as the racing car class from the same era fell to the Frazer Nash single-seater of James Baxter, who cut a fine first run in 34.57sec to show that Mac Hulbert and ERA R4D have a serious rival for the pre-war record.
ERA, so inextricably linked to the hill thanks to the 1930s success of Raymond Mays, had a dedicated class. As expected, Hulbert took the ex-Mays chassis to a commanding win. Having dipped under the 34sec mark for the fourth time in practice, he managed a 34.11sec best.
A big entry of Shelsley Specials ranged from David Leigh in his GN Spider dating from 1923 to the latest high-tech Mannic of Nic Mann. In the 1950s sportscar class Julian Bronson (Lister) just edged Simon Taylor (Stovebolt Special), though both had dramas on their second runs. Australian Terry Wright made the long journey worthwhile by winning the 1950s racing car class in his Walton-Cooper.
Victories in the 1960s/70s classes fell to Richard George (Chevron B19) and Peter Voigt (Techcraft).
But results were only a part of the day, a truly memorable event that did full justice to 100 years of hillclimbing at Shelsley Walsh.